Sunday, October 19, 2014

Where I've Been: When Life Gives You Guavas, Get Pasted.

   It's been a weird few weeks/months around here; a move, a remodel, a tango with campylobacter,  an earthquake, and just when shit was finally starting to get back to normal a routine mammogram at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco led to the discovery of a very small breast cancer and suddenly this 24 year cancer survivor was back in the saddle again.

   After lots of tests and prep, I had surgery this last Tuesday morning. Wednesday afternoon I was back home in Sonoma and if anyone had told me the same operation 24 years apart could be soooooo different, I'd never have believed them. The doctors and nurses kept telling me how easily things go nowadays and I said "no way! I've been there and I know what this is!" Well, I have to admit it. I was wrong. Yes wrong. So, so, so, wrong. I'm glad I'm not a gambling person because if I'd actually bet any money on this, I'd be a huge loser this week. Never take me to Vegas with you 'cause I really don't have a knack for this stuff. I'm back at home now, out and about and I want to thank everyone for all the prayers and good wishes you sent my way. I'm definitely on the mend and looking forward to getting back into the kitchen again. I'll be keeping you posted on my progress.

   Since I knew I wasn't going to be allowed to lift anything heavier than 5 lbs for a week or so, I did some cooking before I went into the hospital. Let's put it this way, I HAD to do some cooking before I went into the hospital as my guava crop started coming in and I was trying to get a jump on the piles of fruit before I was overwhelmed. I was looking for something easy and quick to make, something that would get rid of a lot of fruit fast. One thing I always serve around this time of year to put on holiday cheese platters is guava paste. It's great with Manchego cheese and a variety of other stuff, and since I knew I'd be buying blocks of it anyway, I thought why not save some money and make my own? It was easier than I thought.

Guava Paste

Here's What You Need: 
1 and 1/4 lbs fresh guavas
1 cup of water
2 cups of sugar

Here's What To Do:
Rinse and dry the guavas.

Cut the tops and bottoms off the guavas, and peel them.

Cut the peeled guavas in half and scoop out the insides.

Place the scooped out guava insides in a small bowl, and the peeled guava shells in another.
When all the peeling and scooping is done, pour 1/2 cup of water into the bowl holding the scooped out guava insides.

Set them aside to soak.
Take the peel guava shells, chunk them up and put them into a saucepan.

Add in 1/2 cup of water.

Bring the water to a boil, then turn things down to a simmer. Put a lid on things, and cook everything until the guava shells are soft. This takes about 30 minutes. Stir them every now and then to prevent anything from sticking or burning.

When the guava shells are nice and soft and creamy they're done.

Take them off the fire.
Strain the bowl of water and guava insides into a larger bowl. The water will have turned gelatinous.

Press the stuff that doesn't go through the strainer, pushing the pulp through, and leaving the seeds behind.

Stir the strained guava insides into the sauce pan of cooked softened guava shells.

Put everything though a food processor or blender.

Grind it into a puree.

Measure the amount of puree you have when done, and add an equal amount of sugar.
I had 1 cup of puree so I mixed it with 1 cup of sugar and put it back into the saucepan.

Using a wooden spoon, cook the mixture down into a thick paste.

This takes about 20 minutes or so.
When the paste is thick, line a small square or loaf an with waxed paper and pour the paste into it.

Spread the paste out into the pan and smooth it.

Set the pan of guava paste aside in a cool place for about 24 hours.
Un-mold the guava paste , cut it into blocks, wrap it in waxed paper, and store in the fridge.
When you're ready to use it unwrap and serve it up.

   There you go, guava paste! Now, once your guava paste is done, what can be done with it besides part of a cheese plate?  As it turns out......quite a lot. Guava paste is popular the world over and there are a lot of recipes out there as I'm finding out. Coming up next, a classic Central American guava cake. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

When Nature Gives You Pineapple Guava, Make Sorbet. Without An Ice Cream Machine!

   In LA I was always a plant scavenger, a climber of fences, and scaler of walls. I loved going after the stuff people overlooked, the stuff people ignored, the stuff nobody wanted. The one thing that has always driven me crazy is driving /walking past trees and bushes with edibles on them that nobody is using. Virginia Woolf wanted a room of one's own. I always dreamed of a tree of ones own.
   Here in Sonoma I often see bushes and trees on people's property with neglected fruit. When I can, I glean off the side of the road. I know where the "free" trees and bushes are and I try to take advantage of them. In our old house here we were on top of a hill, overlooking a vineyard. It was impossible to grow anything except herbs, as any other attempts at agriculture was just setting out a free salad bar for assorted critters. So when we bought our new house in town, one of the chief goals was to be able to grow a lot of our own fruit and vegetables. Our house is on just under a quarter of an acre, pretty good space for a place right in town, within walking distance to The Plaza. It has a large garden and we have xeriscaped  both the front and back, removing the lawns and putting in 7 large raised beds and fruit trees in the rear of the house. In the front we have drought-tolerant plants and the house came with a number of large established trees, one of which is a large pineapple guava .
   If you've never had pineapple guava, it tastes a bit like pineapple crossed with kiwi, but yet not.  It's a slightly tart, acidic yet sweet taste. It's hard to describe so I'll just call it distinctively tropical. Pretty dang refreshing on a hot Sonoma afternoon.

    When we first moved in, one of the neighbors glanced at the big tree said, "oh yeah, you're gonna get a lotta fruit off that thing". He wasn't kidding. Back in LA we had a pineapple guava tree in a planter in the back yard in Santa Monica which occasionally gave me a few measly pieces of fruit. This thing we've got is more like a pineapple guava machine. There is no way I'm keeping up with it, but I'm trying.
   I've been actively seeking out stuff to do with all this fruit. Chutney is one possibility. Another is Pineapple Guava Cheese, a form of membrillo. I usually buy the stuff at Whole Foods, but now I'm determined to make my own. I've been collecting all sorts of guava recipes, but as a starter I thought I'd begin with something really simple, sorbet. So simple that one doesn't even need an ice cream machine to make it, just a Pyrex dish and a food processor.

Pineapple Guava Sorbet

Here's What You Need:
2 cups pineapple guava pulp.
2 Tbs sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Here's What to Do:
Cut the pineapple guavas in half and scoop out the meat.

You'll need 2 cups worth.
Put the guava meat into a food processor.

Add a Tablespoon of Lemon juice. This keeps the guava fruit from oxidizing too much.

Add in 2 Tbs of sugar and whiz it up.

Check the taste. If you feel you need to add more sugar or a tad more lemon juice do so.This all depends on the sweetness of your guava fruit. You control the flavor.
Pour the guava puree through a sieve and into a bowl to remove all the little seeds.

Pour the strained guava puree into a Pyrex dish.

Pop it into the freezer.

Stir it with a fork every 30 minutes or so, or you can just leave it. When you're ready to eat it, put the frozen guava puree into a food processor and whirl it up til it's creamy. I shoveled mine into hollowed out guava skins and served them that way.

   There it is, Pineapple Guava Sorbet! Fast and easy and no need for an ice cream machine. If you don't have any pineapple guavas, you can do this with almost any fresh fruit, and if you don't have any fresh fruit, try it with frozen fruit. Just drop the frozen fruit into a food processor swirl up and enjoy. I have barely made a dent in what's coming off this tree, so coming up I attempt to make my own Guava Cheese, also finally conquer the task of setting yogurt in clay pots. Follow along on Twitter at @kathygori

Friday, October 3, 2014

So A Guy, (Actually Me) Walks Into UCSF Medical Center.......

   25 years ago I had cancer. It was a big surprise to me as well as to my doctors. I was in my 30's , a vegetarian, non smoking, non drinking, runner. Not exactly who anyone expected to turn up as a cancer patient, but turn up I did. It turns out that as a child I was exposed to radiation. This was back in the 50's when Our Friend the Atom was considered the universal cure for nearly anything. Anyone who's watched The Knick about turn of the century medicine in a NYC hospital, or Manhattan about the invention of The Bomb at Los Alamos during WW2 know how close people used to get to this stuff without worrying about it.

Like this x-ray guy, "just stand there for one hour" while we point this thing at your head.

 What could possibly go wrong????

   So as an infant back in the 50's a doctor advised my parents to treat me with radiation for some minor childhood problem. Hey, it was the atomic age, and all the kids were doing it! About 25 years later I found out about this through a warning letter and a bunch of articles about people in their 20's and 30's who'd had these treatments turning up with cancer. Being the careful sort (hypochondriac) I kept a close eye on myself and sure enough, in my 30's I joined the club.
   I  was given a "poor prognosis"  because of how the radiation had affected me. I was a young person and so the cancer was more aggressive. I had surgery and chemo and the whole 9 yards. Which led to me learning to cook Indian food because my doctor advised adding ayurvedics to western medicine, and so here I am today. Still eating Indian food, still getting my regular check ups. I have been genetically tested and don't carry the gene for the type of cancer that I had. It seems that I was prey to what is called "backscatter radiation"  the residual of treatment I had as a baby. As anyone can tell you the younger one is when one is exposed to radiation, the more dangerous it is. No matter how well I take care of myself, what I eat or don't eat, how fast and often I run, that can't be undone, and so I am always on guard.
   Ever since moving to  Sonoma  I visit  UCSF every year and get checked. For all these years both in LA and up here, so far so good. A couple of weeks ago, I went for my regular visit and there was something not so good. It seemed as though I had cancer again. For the last couple of weeks I've been having tests, ultrasound, and a biopsy and yep, it was cancer again.  Of course the thing I was sweating out was the pathology. Would it be the same sort of scary stuff as last time?? What was I in for now?

   As it turns out the pathology was good, if you have to have cancer. What they found was very, very small and not the same sort of crazy aggressive cancer I had the last time. In fact all I need this time is a simple removal of something less than 1/3 of an inch. No chemo, no nothing. Whew. I have never been so happy having someone tell me I had cancer before!!!  It's a lot better than the last time around. For anyone in the Bay Area the people at the UCSF Breast Center rock and I am grateful for all their help. Just sayin' I'm going to be in the hospital for an overnight stay in about a week and then will be back to the regular same old same old.

   The reason I'm sharing this here is the last time I experienced this, I didn't tell anyone. Try going through chemo and surgery and lying your ass off about it. Hiding out and sneaking around. I was talking to one of the nurses at the cancer center at UCSF - he was one of the nurses who helped start the AIDS unit at New York Hospital back in the '80s.  She told me what I did was the equivalent of being in the closet. I realized she was right because I came out of that experience healthy but crazy angry. It seems that after 8 rounds of chemo I got better and then I got mad. In fact enraged. I had experienced stuff that none of my friends had, I 'd seen scary stuff, and been through scary life-threatening stuff.  I'd seen friends in my support group die, and kept my mouth shut about it the whole time, mainly because of fear of being un-hirable. I thought no one would want to hire a screenwriter with cancer.  After all everybody knows how those movies end. Except they don't always. Back then there was a different attitude toward cancer and I was more scared of surviving and being unable to earn a living afterward then I was of anything I was going through. 
   For my part I I thought I was hiding the crazy pretty darn well. Yeah sure. My doctor wisely sent me to a therapist who specialized in PTSD.  Who me? I wasn't in 'Nam.
I wasn't like Walter in the Big Lebowski.

Except I sort of was. Pretty soon I found myself sitting on a sofa discussing life and death and fear and secrets with guys named Dirty Jack, and Mikey who looked like the cast of Sons of Anarchy. I was the only woman, the only one who hadn't been to 'Nam, or in the CIA, or Seals, and the only cancer survivor.  When Dirty Jack told me that I was the one he'd want with him in a knife fight but I had to learn to deal with my shit, I knew I was finally home. I loved those guys and they really helped me a lot. I didn't have to be such a hardass all the time.I started talking and I started working with other cancer survivors and patients. I finally really started to heal.
   This is just in a way some background, and an explanation as to why I wrote this. I can't be quiet this time around, even though I easily could since this is a very minor deal. If I never mentioned it to anyone, no one would ever have to know. Except I would, and I'd just go back to lying about stuff that's scary again and the next thing you know, I'd be driving down Wilshire Blvd in my BMW at nearly 90 mph hollering.
   So, consider this just a digression in the regular parade of food.  I'm "sharing" because it's good for me and good for anyone else who may be dealing with the same situation to know that they can talk about it. Fortunately, life goes on. Oh yeah, and I picked a buttload of pineapple guavas off my tree, coming up next Pineapple Guava Sorbet without a machine.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

What's Cooking? Basundi, The Gujarati Classic Slow Cooked Dessert.

   Dealing with the new house and a whole bunch of other stuff I'll get into later has been a lot of work. Last week finally, the last of the boxes left the living room and we started to get an idea of just what goes where, and also what that "what" should be. There's also the issue of how the house works with people besides ourselves in it. One of the things that appealed to us about the place was how it would work for entertaining. The way we designed the place was with friends and family in mind and we were eager to take it for a small test spin. Each weekend we've been having a few friends over to see how everything works.
   One of the major changes has been in the dining room table. Instead of the long  reclaimed barnwood table we had, (now out on the deck) there is a new hammered copper dining room table, square shaped that seats 8 or 10.

Turns out people like that shape better than hollering down a long table. But what to put on that table? Last weekend moving with baby steps we had a few people over for dessert. After 3 months away from them I wanted to get my mitts on my clay pots again.

What better way to break in the table and re-christen one of my clay pots then with famed Gujarati chef Tarla Dalals recipe for the slow cooked milk pudding known as  Basundi.

    Basundi and variations of it are found all over India. The best way to think about it is as a slow cooked rice pudding.... without the rice. It's one of the easiest recipes you'll find anywhere. With just a few ingredients it's simple in preparation. The thing that makes Basundi special is that it's true slow cooking. With a little bit of effort and bit more investment of time, you can easily make this Indian classic. With the weather starting to change around here, it's the perfect dessert to make on a cool and rainy fall afternoon.


Here's What You Need:
2 litres of milk (full fat)
1 cup of sugar
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 cup chopped pistachio
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/2 tsp saffron

Here's What To Do:
Pour the milk into a wide bottomed pot, or a clay pot.

Turn the flame up.

 Bring the milk to a boil.

When it boils turn the heat down to low and cook it until the volume is halved. Keep a spoon nearby and stir the milk occasionally so nothing sticks.

If you're using a clay pot, always use a silicone or wooden spoon to keep from damaging the clay.
When the milk is reduced by half you're ready for the next step.
Add in the sugar.

Keep cooking it on a low flame and keep stirring until the milk starts to thicken.

Remember to scrape down the sides of the pan as you stir to prevent sticking, scalding, or burning. This should take about 25 minutes.
When the milk has thickened, add in the ground cardamom.

Stir the cardamom in well. Keep cooking and stirring for another 20 minutes.

When the basundi has thickened, it's ready to serve. You can serve it warm or let it chill a while and serve it cold as I did.
To chill it, take it off the flame and let it cool a bit.

When it's cooled enough, pop it in the fridge until you're ready to serve it.
Before serving, toast the saffron in a small cast iron pan, then crumble it.
Set it aside.
Chop the pistachios.

Ladle the Basundi into small serving cups. I used katoris.

Crumble a bit of the toasted saffron on top of each serving, followed by a bit of chopped pistachios, and a few slivered almonds.

 Serve it up.

I served it with a hot unsweetened spiced tea. Basundi is thick and rich so you don't need large servings to satisfy.  This recipe made 8 servings.

   It felt great to get back behind the stove working the clay pots again. Now that I have them out of their boxes, and safely stowed in the kitchen it's time to break out the dal. Fall's a coming as is my first crop of pineapple guava.

A spicy sorbet, or a chutney, I haven't quite decided. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Pigs + Figs = Pig Newtons. A Grown Up Make-Ahead Party Food.

   When I was a kid one of my favorite cookies was a Fig Newton. I didn't get them very often as Fran wasn't big into sweets and when we did get cookies they were usually her trademarked homemade Butter, aka poker-chip, cookies. Once in a while a bag of Fig Newtons would find it's way into the house usually picked up by my dad at the day-old store on the way home from work. Of course, being dad he got the lions share. I remember him sitting in the kitchen, in a cloud of Camel smoke, a plate of Fig Newtons and a cold glass of milk in front of him listening to the Giants on KSFO. The kitchen was off limits territory to kids during the game but once in a while I'd sneak in and he'd toss me a bone, or rather a Fig Newton.

   I've thought of baking my own Fig Newtons over the years, but somehow I never seemed to get around to it, then last year Alan had the idea that instead of Fig Newtons, why not bake "Pig Newtons"? Pig Newtons? Really? All I could think of was this.

 So yeah, I was gonna bake a "cookie" made of figs and bacon. Right. I've been eating vegan for the last several months since my tangle with campylobacter, so yeah I'm gonna bake a bacon cookie.

   I baked a bacon cookie, so shoot me.

   Another thing we have here in Sonoma is excellent local bacon. Usually I have some home made in our freezer, but with the move and renovation I just haven't gotten my bacon on lately so I got some of our locally made Applewood smoked bacon and once again, pilfered Needlemans' fig tree. Pig Newtons were on their way to moving from just a bacon fever dream to reality. After all, I see all this bacon fig jam out there, it had to be just one simple step to make some of that and wrap it in a savory shortbread crust. It was.

   There are a couple of ways to go about this. You can make your own bacon fig jam, or buy some. I'll tell you here how to make the jam and the cookie dough, then you can figure out what you have to time for. Let's Newton!

Pig Newtons


Here's What You Need:  


 For the Jam:
1 lb Applewood smoked bacon
1 onion chopped
1 lb of fresh figs
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp Kashmiri chili
1/2 cup brown sugar
pinch of ground cloves
1/2 cup water
a few grinds of fresh black pepper
2 Tbs bacon grease.

For the Cookie:
1 stick of unsalted butter (4 oz)
3 oz grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp chopped  fresh thyme
1/2 tsp chopped fresh sage
1 1/4 flour
1 to 3 Tbs water (I usually wind up using 3)

Here's What To Do:
Wash, dry, and quarter the figs.

Set them aside.
Chop the onion and set it aside.
Chop your bacon into small pieces.

Place a cast iron pan on the fire. When it's hot, add in the chopped bacon.

Render the bacon down. You're going to cook it so that it goes from this....

to this...

Scoop the rendered crispy bacon onto a plate covered with a paper towel to blot up the grease.
Take the hot bacon fat in the skillet and save 2 Tbs of it. Pour the rest of it off for use another time.
Pour the 2 Tbs of bacon grease back into the pan.

Add in your chopped onion.

Saute the onions until they turn soft.
Now add the quartered figs into the pan.

Stir them around and add in the brown sugar...

...the apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, and water.

Add in the ginger, chili, and the rest of the spices.

Kashmiri chili.

Finally, add in the crispy bacon pieces.

Stir everything around. Bring the mixture to a boil then turn the heat down and simmer the bacon fig jam for about 1 hour.

The jam is done when it thickens and turns dark.

Take the jam off the flame and let it cool a bit.
Move it to a food processor and grind it to a thick jammy texture.
Now, set it aside (it'll keep in the fridge in an air tight container for about 2 weeks) and make your cookies whenever you want.

Cookie Dough:
 This cookie dough can also be made a few days ahead.

Bring 1 stick of unsalted butter to room temperature
Cut it into pieces, set it aside.

Measure out 3 oz of grated Parmesan, set it aside.

Chop the sage and thyme and set them aside.

Put the butter into a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, turn it to low and blend it until the butter is creamy.
When it's creamy add in the Parmesan cheese, salt...

...sage and thyme.

Add in the flour.

Add each of these one at a time until each one is thoroughly blended in.
Finally add in the water to help the dough stick together.
I usually wind up adding in 3 Tbs, but go one at a time until it's the texture you need.
Take the dough out of the bowl and shape it into a round.

Flatten it into a round.

Wrap in in plastic wrap and pop it into the fridge to firm up for at least 30 minutes.

You can make the dough ahead of time also. It'll harden up in the fridge so let it soften a bit before you work with it if you leave it there for very long.

Making The Cookie:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Roll the dough about 1/4 inch thick.

When the dough is rolled out, square it off, and cut it into wide strips.

Spread some bacon jam down the center of each strip.

Fold one half of the strip over the jam.

Then fold the other side over.

Flip the roll to the unfolded side, and cut them into bite sized Pig Newtons.

Place the pig newtons on a silicone mat on a baking sheet, or just parchment paper on a cookie sheet.

Once made they can be  stored in the fridge like this for a few hours before baking. Just cover them lightly with cling film.
Of course you can also bake and eat them right away!
Put them into your 350 degree oven.

Bake them for about 25 minutes.
Ah, the siren smell of bacon....

It seems that this is what oven windows were made for.
When the Pg Newtons have turned golden they're done.

Serve them piping hot.

   Last night our friend Marie, who works for Patz and Hall Winery here in Sonoma brought over some of their Jenkins Ranch Pinot Noir. Our guests absolutely loved it. The perfect match I was told.

   Pigs and Figs, made for each other.

Coming up next, a return to Indian food,  with the classic Gujarati dessert Basundi. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori


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